Intense exercise may help reduce unhealthy food cravings, study finds

Photo (c) John Fedele - Getty Images

Experts say there are multiple benefits associated with regular exercise

Avoiding cravings for unhealthy foods can be difficult for many consumers. Now, researchers from Washington State University are exploring some new ways to stay on top of healthy habits and ignore unhealthy food cravings

According to their findings, intense exercise during periods of dieting may help consumers cut down on their cravings for fattier foods. 

“A really important part of maintaining a diet is to have some brain power – the ability to say ‘no, I may be craving that, but I’m going to abstain,’” said researcher Travis Brown. “Exercise could not only be beneficial physically for weight loss, but also mentally to gain control over cravings for unhealthy foods.” 

Benefits of physical activity

The researchers conducted their study on dieting mice to better understand the impact that exercise has on controlling cravings. They had nearly 30 mice undergo a training period during which they would press a lever and be rewarded with a high-fat food pellet. The mice were then broken up into two groups and did not have access to the lever for 30 days; one group completed high-intensity running on a treadmill every day, while the other group participated in no additional exercise. 

At the end of the 30 days, the mice were once again given access to the lever. However, they weren't given food when they pressed it the second time.

The researchers found that the mice that had been exercising pressed the lever for the high-fat food pellets far less often than the mice that hadn't been exercising. This suggests that being consistently active was effective at helping the mice control their cravings for fattening foods; however, it remains unclear why this association between exercise and cravings exists. 

While the team plans to do more work in this area to better understand what types of exercise can best help consumers control their cravings for junk food, these findings indicate that staying physically active may be a good way for consumers to stick to their diets.

“Exercise is beneficial from a number of perspectives: it helps with cardiac disease, obesity, and diabetes; it might also help with the ability to avoid some of these maladaptive foods,” Brown said. “We’re always looking for this magic pill in some ways, and exercise is right in front of us with all these benefits.” 

Get a health screening near you

Get Peace of Mind or Early Detection with Life Line Screening

Get started